A noted cynic and music critic once defined the requiem as “an opera for the dead.” More often than not, the most successful examples of the requiem feature choral and orchestral splendor and sonic spectacle—very theatrical and operatic elements—along with the commemorative and religious functions of the mass. Over the course of music history, from the Renaissance through the current day, nothing has seemed to deter composers from trying their compositional hand at the form. Performances this week and next offer Knoxville concertgoers two very different examples of the requiem: the rarely performed Requiem of 20th-century French organist and composer Maurice Duruflé; and the well-known and well-loved Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Duruflé Requiem, which comes courtesy of the University of Tennessee Chamber Singers, the UT Concert Choir, and the UT Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Angela Batey, was written in 1947 and dedicated to the memory of the composer’s father. Duruflé published only eleven works in his lifetime and was often highly self-critical of some of those. Although organists know and perform his solo pieces, his Requiem for chorus, organ, and orchestra is, by far, his most well-known work.
Duruflé had been working on an organ suite based on the Gregorian chant melodies of the Missa Pro Defunctis (“Mass for the Dead”), but decided to use them in the Requiem once he received the commission. These melodies occur throughout the nine-movement work, both in the choral and instrumental sections, either in complete lines, or in fragments.
Rather than literally transcribe the melodies with their irregular patterns of beats, he made adjustments and allowed the meter to change frequently so that the original feeling of the chant was preserved. Duruflé’s adapted Gregorian rhythms take on a very 20th-century feeling, as do his choral harmonies, while the work overall enjoys a solidly traditional and tranquil lyricism.
Ironically, Mozart was still working on his Requiem at the time of his own death. The Mozart work, performed next week by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the Knoxville Choral Society, stands boldly in history for its sheer beauty and simplicity. Although Peter Schaffer’s play Amadeus and Milos Forman’s Oscar-winning film adaptation took significant creative license in depicting the last months of Mozart’s life, while he was composing his Requiem, there are some factual similarities between the play and the actual history.
The Count Franz von Walsegg, a Viennese amateur musician, anonymously commissioned the Requiem from Mozart in 1791, after the death of his wife, with the intention of passing off the work as his own. On Mozart’s death in December of that year, however, the piece wasn’t finished. Mozart’s widow, Constanze, secured the services of another composer, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who had been assisting Mozart prior to his death, to finish the work and pass it off as if Mozart had completed it. When von Walsegg had the work performed in 1792, the score had been copied into his hand, and his name placed on it.
The controversy still exists, though, about how much of the work Mozart had actually completed or sketched out before his death and how much Süssmayr contributed to the final work. The score presented to Count Walsegg is entirely in Süssmayr’s handwriting; even Mozart’s signature on the title page was a forgery by Süssmayr. Constanze had retained a copy of the work for herself; with the financial support of Mozart’s friend, Baron van Swieten, a memorial performance of Mozart’s Requiem for the benefit of the widow was given on Jan. 2, 1793.
The KSO/KCS performance, with Maestro Lucas Richman conducting, will feature as soloists Jennifer Barnett, soprano; Lorraine DiSimone, mezzo-soprano; Andrew Skoog, tenor; and Andrew Wentzel, bass.